SETTLING OFF EARTH
- transitioning to an ever expanding settlement -
WHAT IS SETTLEMENT?
There is a misunderstanding about space settlement. People commonly assume that it is very difficult (if even possible) and that it will occur only in the distant future. But is this really the case?
At its core, space settlement means "settling down" off Earth. It means means selling one's home and establishing a new home with one's family in a new location. The simplest form of family is a couple without their children (e.g. retirees). And settlement starts with the first people settling down.
WHO'S RESPONSIBILITY IS SETTLEMENT?
Ultimately space settlement will become a private matter. But these pages describe a straightforward process where governmental development of a base would naturally align and transition to a growing private settlement. The development that governments do for their base(s) will apply direct and immediately to settlement. Both bases and settlements require transportation, power, habitats, food production, etc. So, about the only difference is whether the stay is considered temporary or indefinite.
LOCATION OF THE FIRST SETTLEMENT
There are a few factors which strongly imply that the first settlement will be on the Moon. Reusable spacecraft would be able to make roundtrips to the Moon about every two weeks whereas it would take 26 months go to Mars and back. Any space transportation company (e.g. SpaceX) would want to sell as many tickets as possible. So even Elon Musk says, "We'll probably have a base on the Moon before going to Mars." Money made from developing the Moon could then be applied to the development of Mars.
Also, retirees are the ones who have lived long enough to save up enough and they are freed from childrearing and occupational responsibilites. So undoubtedly they will be over-represented among those settling space. And grandparents want to be in close to their grandkids. This would strongly favor the Moon over Mars.
As for spinning settlements in Earth orbit, because there are no natural resources there, everything has to be imported. But, using telerobotic operations, hardware shipped to the lunar surface could produce many times its mass or more making lunar development about 25 times less expensive than development in Earth orbit.
TYPES & PHASES OF SETTLERS
The very next people back to the Moon could be the first settlers if they are "private" company employees fulfilling a government contract to build up and maintain propellant-producing infractructure. This phase would be the Initial Crew phase and would be very historic in nature.
The second phase of settlers could be American and international astronauts who choose to remain behind on the Moon as part of a growing, permanent, international base.
With the increased flight rate, per-seat prices would come down to where wealthy private individuals would start arriving. This would break down into two phases: The Early Private Settlers & the Latter Private Settlers. The first group would be willing to sacrifice some convenience in order to play their role in establishing humanity's first permanent foothold off Earth. The second group (including their spouses) would want to have certain amenities (e.g. large garden areas, swimming, etc) before going. Tourism would be done by practically all settlers but would probably not be a huge market.
There might also be working settlers who pay back their transit by working for the other, more wealthy settlers and eventually, depending upon animal studies, settlers might be born within the settlement.
HOW SOON UNTIL THE FIRST SETTLERS
If Starship succeeds and there is a large public-private partnership between NASA and SpaceX then the first crew to the Moon could occur by around 2023-25. If those crew were private workers, having sold their homes on Earth with plans to stay indefinitely then that is when history will point back to as when space settlement started. With a fleet of Starships launching each week at up to 100 passengers per ship, then we could witness tens of thousands of space settlers by 2030.
THE ECONOMICS OF SETTLEMENT
The development of an international base will do much of the early development work for settlement. That development will largely be funded by NASA and other countries for government purposes.
There is too much anxiety in space advocate circles about how settlement will pay for itself. Mining what "unobtanium" will it take to make settlement possible? This for-profit, resource-oriented perspective is misleading. Elon's ssettlement business plan is based upon people's savings. Retirement communities flourish despite no mining, intellectual property, or reality TV shows. Why should initial space settlement be any different. People will use their savings, made in Earth markets at other times and places to fund their own settlement. But also, the more local resources reduce shipping costs the cheaper space settlement will become.
THE MOTIVATION OF SETTLERS
The motivation to send national astronauts to a permanent base includes national pride / prestige and science. If the cost of transport is low enough then this is sufficient motivation for them. For private settlers, an opportunity to play an historic role in helping humanity to move off Earth will give personal significance and a reputation for those motivated by these things. Latter settlers will primarily be motivated by the opportunity to be part of an exclusive community, the uniqueness activities which 1/6th gravity allows, and the opportunity to tour the Moon.
OFF EARTH COUNTRIES
Later settlers will need a high enough quality of living to be willing to use their savings to move off Earth. This helps us understand that we need to focus on making the settlement experience as attractive as possible for "normal" people.
A growing colony would need a master plan for growth eventually growing into independent, off-Earth countries. As settlement grow, they would need to ensure that the medical needs and quality of life were met and a plan for governance.